"Intersectional Feminism" is an ideology that is based on the findings of Kimberlé Crenshaw. Her observation that the law was too rigid and didn't allow for multiple discriminations to exist simultaneously led her to seek a new way to address how people experience oppression. We have come a long way since then, but we're not traveling in the right direction. Eleanor Roberts has this to say in her article that appeared in the online edition of The Guardian:
Nobody knows what intersectionality means. I certainly don’t, and the more I read about it the more confused I become.
There are a few things I think I know: it’s something to do with oppression, especially multiple oppressions; if you run in certain feminist circles, especially online, it’s bad to not be it (intersectional); if you run in certain socialist circles, it’s something to make fun of.
Every time I feel I’m getting closer to an acceptable definition I find someone using a different one, usually to defend or condemn their particular version of the concept.
It’s not just me: the scholar who coined the term, UCLA law professor and critical race theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw, said in 2009 that she is “amazed at how [intersectionality] gets over- and under-used; sometimes I can’t even recognize it in the literature any more.” (Read more here)
From law to feminism. Can such a leap be made?
When we apply intersectionality to feminism we lose the original intent of the theory, which was to help courts understand the way multiple discriminations can occur at the same time. Crenshaw explains:
Some people look to intersectionality as a grand theory of everything, but that’s not my intention. If someone is trying to think about how to explain to the courts why they should not dismiss a case made by black women, just because the employer did hire blacks who were men and women who were white, well, that's what the tool was designed to do. If it works, great. If it doesn’t work, it’s not like you have to use this concept. (Read more here)
Sexism is by its own definition men discriminating against women - because they are women. There is no intersectionality when it comes to sexism, because there aren't multiple ways to be sexist. Intersections occur when an individual experiences multiple forms of discrimination at the same time. For intersectional discrimination to occur, every form of oppression must come from a separate source. And at is here that IF confuses the matter.
It is not our feminism that has to be intersectional, it is us.
WE must be anti-sexist, anti-racist, anti-imperialists, etc. WE must identify the different forms of oppression that we may participate in. WE must recognize our own privileges and work on being more inclusive in the areas we find that others have been left behind. Feminism is just one of the many ways we combat the multiple ways humans discriminate. It is not the umbrella.
I had a few lengthy conversations on Facebook after I posted yesterday's blog article (as these were in closed groups I won't be posting screenshots). One thing in particular caught my attention: IF advocates were saying women can be sexist towards other women and this is the reason our feminism has to be intersectional. In other words, white women are being sexist towards women of color, and this sexism comes with other forms of discrimination. This is the reason you can't be a "real feminist" if your feminism doesn't include all other means to combat discrimination.
It's a brilliant argument.
And completely misguided.
If women can be sexist towards other women we have effectively stripped feminism from both its meaning and power. It's no longer about women gaining equal rights in a patriarchal society that sees them as secondary to men. It's about pitting women against each other. It's about placing the burden of all societal ills on women - which is what a patriarchal society does. It exonerates men and blames women; white women, to be precise. No wonder men go around telling women they aren't "real feminists" while claiming themselves to be exactly that, since it's no longer about the sexism women experience from men. It's about how women treat each other. And men have always enjoyed telling women how they should behave.
Another thought that surfaced from yesterday's conversations was that it's not enough to talk about just sexism. It reveals privilege, I was told. White women need to be quiet, because they can only talk about sexism. They aren't oppressed enough. To be a "real feminist" a person has to experience multiple forms of oppression. But this brings up the question why white men can be feminists, but not white women, if a person has to experience, or at least talk about, multiple discriminations in order to be a "real feminist." It's an important question since white men have far more privileges than white women. And this leads to the next question: why would white men become allies of women of color in opposition to white women? And then it dawned to me: white men tend to marry white women, and if white women can't talk about the sexism they experience from men, white men don't have to change. They can keep on insisting women exist to serve them.
White women can do better and be more inclusive when it comes to people of color. There is no doubt about it. But all women must be allowed to talk about the sexism they experience. It is the reason feminism exists. Feminism is for women. The purpose of feminism is not to expose racist attitudes. It is to end the sexism women experience from men.
Nothing more, nothing less.
Let's keep it that way.